Al-Shahaniya, Qatar – Portugal midfielder. Bernardo Silva tried his best to say all the right things. Speaking at Portugal’s first press conference since arriving in Qatar, and in front of a crowded media tent at Al Shahaniya Sports Club, the Manchester City star had to insist more than once that the consequences Cristiano RonaldoPiers Morgan’s high-profile interview that led to the ‘mutual’ termination of his contract with Manchester United is no distraction ahead of their World Cup campaign. Eventually, the mask slipped off.

“I don’t understand your persistence in this matter, because there is nothing,” Silva said with the expression of a man who has long been weary of questions. “It’s embarrassing to talk about this situation with Cristiano when we have to play the World Cup.”

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It was the same for Ruben Neves when he spoke the next day to the Wolves midfielder, unwilling to say anything other than his opinion that Ronaldo was in “phenomenal form”.

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Interest in the 37-year-old striker was such that when Silva arrived to talk, about 50 camera crews, jostling and jostling in an attempt to gain access, had to be left outside. It is traditional for captains to speak at pre-match press conferences 24 hours before games, but Portugal decided instead to surreptitiously invite Ronaldo in the early hours of Monday without informing the assembled media in Qatar to avoid media scrutiny.

This suggests that one of the first things he said was asking reporters to stop asking his teammates about the interview and the furor it caused. “Please don’t ask the players about me, ask about the World Cup,” he said. “I speak when I want to.”

However, this is precisely the problem.

Sources told Sportzshala that, in addition to many other issues with Morgan’s interview, Manchester United were unhappy with the timing because the first snippets were teased hours after their dramatic 2-1 victory over Fulham. Alexander Garnachofirst goal in the Premier League. Sources at Portugal’s camp also said their star player’s decision to speak out shortly before the team’s meeting in Lisbon raised eyebrows, though some say he is “doing what he wants” after 191 caps.

But while that may be true off the field, attitudes about his impact on the field are changing. Sources have told Sportzshala that Ronaldo is set to start Portugal’s first Group H game against Ghana on Thursday, but manager Fernando Santos is already thinking of ejecting him in his second game against Uruguay four days later. Santos still considers Ronaldo Portugal’s best player “in the box” but given that he expects the majority of Uruguay’s game to be played between two boxes, he is considering other options.

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– Ronaldo defends his interview: “I speak when I want”

In the past, it was almost unthinkable that Ronaldo, who started just four Premier League games for United this season before his hastily negotiated departure, could fail to start a major league game. It even got to the point that Santos was already being asked at press conferences about being “forced” to choose Ronaldo, and whether Ronaldo really chooses a team.

The longtime Portugal coach, who has been in charge since 2014, claims he has a ‘great relationship’ with his star player, but leaving Ronaldo on the bench would send a clear signal that Santos is choosing what he thinks is best. just right for the team. instead of submitting to the demands of any one person. At least the days when the Portuguese team was considered “Ronaldo plus 10” are over.

What hasn’t changed is Ronaldo’s popularity. His image is regularly shown on buildings in downtown Doha and his face is featured on billboards on the city’s train network in an attempt to promote the official World Cup streaming platform. On the day of Qatar’s first match against Ecuador, a local resident sat at a table outside a coffee shop and told his friend that he was desperately trying to find two tickets while the tournament was in town – “one to watch.” Lionel Messiand one to see Ronaldo.”

Desperation to catch a glimpse of Ronaldo prompted about 300 people to make the 30-minute drive from downtown Doha to the Al Samriya Autograph Collection Hotel on Friday night to await Portugal’s arrival. The team bus did not arrive until after midnight, but the fervor with which they were greeted was proof enough that the crowd decided it was worth it.

Ronaldo has already broken one record in Qatar, becoming the first person to surpass 500 million Instagram followers. His off-pitch appeal is undeniable, but for the first time he arrived at the World Cup with questions – both in Portugal and outside – about whether his influence is positive or negative on the national team. By contrast, there is no similar debate in Argentina about whether they should choose Messi despite their shocking first 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.

Usually optimistic about his prospects, Ronaldo said on Monday he would be “surprised” if at his age he had anything left to prove. But a bad World Cup – and one that will likely be his last – will reinforce the feeling that perhaps, at this point in his career, he’s not worth the circus that comes with it. After more than a week of off-pitch headlines, it’s time to talk about his football.